Wednesday 26 September 2012

Unofficial London - What's In a Name?

Author's own photo.
 One sunny day I decided to investigate the history within walking distance of London's, Bank tube station - and after the initially eye-catching buildings such as the Bank of England and Royal Exchange... next to strike me were the street names.

Heading out of Bank station towards St Pauls Cathedral, I walked along Cheapside, passing side roads with names such at Bread Street, Honey Lane and Ironmonger Lane.
Cheapside was established in 1104, following the path of a Roman road. In medieval times the word 'Cheap' meant, market, and as the widest road in the city, it was a popular trading place. The roads leading off it were named for the produce they sold, hence Milk Street, Poultry et.c
Modern Cheapside (Saturday 22 September 2012)
Because Cheapside was regularly thronged with people, it was also prime site for a pillory - or place to publicly humiliate those who had broken the law. The offender was fastened into the pillory by their neck and wrists, on a platform so everyone had a good view. [Stocks were subtly different, the villain being fastened only by their ankles.] The crowd then pelted the wrong-doer with anything that came to hand, from rotten eggs and vegetables, to blood and guts from the nearby slaughterhouses. Concerns about public disorder meant the pillory was abolished as a punishment in 1837.

My sons in the pillory! Warwick Castle 2002.
Bread Street
Bread Street got its name when in 1302, a decree was passed that bread must not be sold door to door, but in an open market. The bakers principle market was established here and hence lent its name to the street.
Bread Steet - now home to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant
and a branch of Gap.
The poet, John Milton, author of Paradise Lost and described as "the greatest British writer", was born here. Also, the commander of the First Fleet, founder and first Governor of Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip was baptised in All Hallows Church, Bread Street in 1738.

Admiral Arthur Phillip.
By happy coincidence, I am currently reading "The Gilded Lily" by Deborah Swift and the central characters live in Bread Street for a while. It feels such a lovely connection to history to have such believable characters treading through snow, bringing the area to life.

Sherborne Lane.
And finally, although London streets were named for the trade that took place there, sometimes this backfired. 'Sherborne Lane' - quaint as it sounds, conjuring images of clear running water, (named from the Dorset town Sherborne, which itself was derived from the Saxon word for 'clear stream') was actually a cover up, created by the 17th century Protestants to hide a much cruder descriptive name.

In medieval times an open sewer, rather than a stream, ran down the middle of the road, hence the much more colourful, "Shitteborne Lane." However this wasn’t the only street named after human refuse; the nearby Cloak Lane derived its origins from the Roman word for a sewer, cloaca.

Sherborne Lane in the modern day - nice and clean.
 So when have you been surprised by the things around you or read a book with a setting familiar to you? Do leave a comment.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Kensington Palace - At Home With The King.

Kensington Palace and grounds - in its 18th century heyday.
The surprising thing about Kensington Palace is its sense of intimacy. In last week's post I mentioned the Grand Staircase which is awe-inspiring but because of the cheeky, boldness of the Georgian mural, rather than its scale. At the top of the stairs, you turn right to enter the King's Presence Chamber - similar in size to a modern sitting room - rather than some huge, palatial chamber. However, this is where the comparison ends because the decoration is gorgeous and gaudy, leaving the visitor in no doubt they are in entering into a royal presence.
The gilded chair on which the King sat to recieve courtiers.
This one belonged to George II's son, Frederick.
 But then the palace plays a trick - the deeper in you go the larger and grander the rooms become. In the Georgian court you either had to be a person of great importance, or else afford ever increasing bribes, to progress further.

The room that most took my breath away was the Cupola room. It is overwhelmingly opulent with its fantastically painted ceiling with the Star of the Order of the Garter as the centre piece. The d├ęcor was designed by William Kent (see last week's post) and his first commission for George I.
The ceiling in the Cupola Room
(Thank you KP for allowing photos, but alas not flash photography.)
Kent was a controversial choice because his art was different - and in time came to set the tone for the Georgian era. His greatest rival, Sir James Thornhill was most put out that Kent won the job and his friends tried to undermine the young artist by casting aspersions on the quality of his work. They accused Kent of cutting costs by using inferior quality paint, especially when it came to the gilding - modern tests proved their claims to be false.
The Cupola Room - it was here Victoria was baptised.
It was in the Cupola Room that the future Queen Victoria was baptised. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, were joined by the Prince Regent (later King George IV). It was George who decided the baby's name: Alexandrina (after the Russian Tsar) Victoria (after her mother).

Statue of Victoria in her coronation robes, in front of Kensington Palace.
Victoria was born at the palace.
As the size of the rooms increases, so they become less personal. Although a grand chamber, the King's Gallery lacks a human feel, although many events of historical importance took place here. Today the gallery is hung with red damask, which in 1725 replaced the original green velvet.
The King's Gallery, as it is today.
The first monarch to use the gallery was William III - he received his spies and planned military campaigns here. He even had a wind dial linked to the room so he could see if the winds were set fair for an invasion fleet to cross the English Channel. He held his 50th birthday party here…and it was also said to be the room where he caught the chill that eventually killed him.

The statue of William III outside Kensington Palace.
George I filled the gallery with fabulous paintings, of which the most famous are Tintoretto's "The Muses" and "Ester before Ahasuerus" and Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I. When King George inspected the room shortly after its completion he was said to be 'well pleased.'
The fireplace in the King's Gallery.
The future Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace and as she grew into a young lady evidently she needed more space. Her mother's solution was to divide the king's gallery into three. The alteration caused consternation but Victoria records her delight in her journal:
"…three lofty, fine cheerful rooms. my sitting room and very prettily furnished indeed."

Later in the 19th century the room was restored to its previous design.
Widget says "A palace isn't a home without a cat...or five."

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Kensington Palace - Hotbed of Gossip.

The King's Grand Staircase - all images on the walls are paint effects.
Painted by William Kent 1726 and still stunningly modern.
Inspired by Lucy Worsley's book, "Courtiers- the Secret History of the Georgian Court", my appetite was whetted to visit Kensington Palace. In particular, I wanted to see the King's Grand Staircase with its cheeky portraits of Georgian courtiers captured in a strikingly modern poses.
Lucy Worsley's captivating book
about the intrigue in the Georgian Court.
The sweeping mural that lines the staircase shows a snapshot of the royal household from Peter the Wild-Boy to the King's mistress, from Mohammed (the King's advisor) to the artist William Kent who painted the scene. To enter the hall and walk up the staircase, is spell-binding and I couldn't help but stop and stare in wonder. A vibrancy and sense of life oozes from the walls such that you can hear the scuttle of silk slippers and gossip whispered behind hands.
A better view of the Grand Staircase (portrait mural to the left
and at the head of the stairs.)
There is a sense of fun, playfulness and intrigue about these portraits that must have caused huge a stir at the time. Added to that, I imagine being an outsider visiting George I, and seeing portraits of plotting courtiers, must have been terribly intimidating.

The Grand Staircase photographed around 1870, during Victoria's reign.
Victoria was born at Kensington palace and it was here that she
learnt of her acsession to the throne.
Kensington Palace has undergone several reincarnations. In the 1600's it started out as a modest mansion, Nottingham House, in what was a rural landscape near London. When William III wanted a country retreat from the pressures of Whitehall, he found this the ideal solution, bought the property for 20,000 pounds and employed Christopher Wren to redesign it.

Queen Victoria in her coronation robes - set in front of Kensington Palace.
The princess was living here when she learnt of her ascession to the throne.

Decades came and went and William's Kensington Palace fell into disuse until George I arrived from Germany. Even though the building was by now neglected in poor repair, the new king declared "I like it very much" and set about a raft of renovation and remodelling. The most stunning of these innovations was employing the controversial, up-and-coming artist, William Kent.

One of the trompe l'oiel paint effects on the staircase.
Apologies for the under exposure.
 My reaction on seeing Kent's staircase mural was bewilderment. I was confused. The fresco style and trompe l'eoil effects so fresh and flirtatious that I thought I'd wandered into a modern interpretation of Kent's work. But no, these playful visual effects are the real thing! [Sadly, I have found no copyright free images to show you. All power to Kensington Palace for allowing photography, albeit without flash, so please excuse the underexposed photos from my pocket camera - but I wanted to give you a flavour of what I saw.]

A pitiful photograph (by me!) of a wonderful paint effect - and this
isnt even the main event (which are the courtiers - sadly too dark to photograph)
If ever you have the opportunity to visit Kensington Palace, I can highly recommend it - worthwhile for the staircase alone! Kensington Palace has so many extraordinary stories of royalty and intrigue to tell - more of this in future posts when some of the gossip and scandal is revealed!
William III, Kensington Palace.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Like Father, Like Son? - Zoophagy #2

Photo courtesy of
Last week's post looked at the great British eccentric, Jack Buckland, on his mission to eat exotic animals - but what is perhaps not surprising is that his father was pretty weird too! The Very Rev. Dc. William Buckland (1784 - 1856) was a theologian, geologist and zoologist. Perhaps it's some measure of their family life, that it was William who introduced is son to the idea of zoophagy (see last week's post).
In his early life, to prove his theory that bird droppings made excellent fertilizer, William used droppings to write the word "guano" over the lawn of his Oxford college. In due course when summer came, the letters were plain to read from a first floor window.
The Very Rev. Dc. William Buckland.
Another indication of eccentricity was that one night Dc. Buckland was journeying to London when he got lost. His solution was to dismount from his horse, and trusting his extraordinary sense of taste, licked a handful of soil and proclaimed, "Uxbridge!" and then went on his way.

A man of many talents, as well as being a theologian, Dc. Buckland was a palaeontologist and zoologist. Strange as it seems these disciplines are not unrelated because he studied fossil records and from that evidence proposed a 'gap theory' of creation.

This theory tried to reconcile the geological evidence that the earth was very old, with the genesis account of creation. Buckland proposed there had been two distinct periods of creation, separated by an unimaginable period of time. Indeed, in his early career he thought he'd found geological evidence of the biblical flood, work later built on by Louis Agassiz who suggested there'd been an ice age.
A contemporary cartoon of Dc.Buckland investigating a site of scientific interest.
For Buckland's work with the fossil record he was made a member of the Royal Society but this eccentric's talents seem to know no end as he also became president of the Geological Society. He analysed fossilised bones to describe a creature he named "Megalosaurus", which later became recognised as the first scientifically catalogued dinosaur. As a measure of his eccentricity, Buckland preferred to do his excavations and digging wearing full academic dress!
A model Megalosaurus - photo courtesy of Mike Pennington.
Buckland married another fossil enthusiast, Mary. One story goes that she helped him decipher fossil footprints found in a lump of sandstone, by spreading flour over the kitchen table. She then let their pet tortoise walk across the table top and then Buckland was able to recognise the similarity of the footprint.

It is perhaps a fitting end, that when William Buckland died, when the gravedigger started turning over the plot a layer of Jurassic limestone was discovered, which had to be cleared with explosives.

            Another eminent geologist penned the following poem in tribute:

Where shall we our great Professor inter
That in peace may rest his bones?
If we hew him a rocky sepulchre
He’ll rise and break the stones
And examine each stratum that lies around
For he’s quite in his element underground
Fossil fish - photo courtesy of FairlyBuoyant.
All of this leaves me wondering how much upbringing influences children? Do you think Jack would have been less interested in eating giraffes, if his father William had been more 'normal'? And what is 'normal' anyway?
Do leave a comment!